We have an edge – Els on SA prospects in Volvo Champions

Ernie Els believes the eight South Africans contesting tomorrow’s Volvo Golf Champions at The Links Fancourt have an advantage over their European rivals and he intends to exploit it.

Els is one of a field of 35 players, all winners on the European Tour, contesting the €2-million event over the 6,662-metre (7,271-yard) par-73 Gary Player-designed layout.

“I think coming from Europe, the guys who were in Europe last week and here now, there’s a big difference in climate,” said Els. “I haven’t played the other European Tour events in South Africa this year, but a lot of the other South Africans have, and I think those guys have an advantage of competitive golf.”

Els might not have played competitive golf, but he has another edge he can leverage to his advantage: “I’ve played this course all December,” he revealed. “The family was down here for three or four weeks in December and I played a lot of golf around here. I have a good feel for the course right now.”

Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen also vacation in the area, so they, too, have a sense of what the elements might throw at players during the tournament as well as a feel for the course itself.

Goosen also won the 2005 South African Open Championship on the course in a thriller of a two-man battle with Els.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is friendly with this year’s Africa Open Oosthuizen and knows the area well from many vacations of his own there, while last week’s Joburg Open winner, Branden Grace, is from George, where The Links Fancourt is situated.

Spanish Open champion Thomas Aiken plays out of Fancourt, so he, too, is familiar with the area.

Only South African Open Championship winner Hennie Otto and Alfred Dunhill Championship victor Garth Mulroy of the South African challenge do not have some Fancourt connection.

“We really feel like we are playing at home,” said Els. “It’s really special for us. We still have a bit of holiday fever down here, so it’s nice to play golf in South Africa at this time of year.”

In a field loaded with major champions – Els, Goosen, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel are joined by Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie and Jose Maria Olazabal – and on a course designed to test the best of golfers, home-town advantage may not be enough of an edge.

And with the youth of someone like the 23-year-old Grace being joined by England’s Tom Lewis, who won the Portugal Masters, and Italian Matteo Manassero who clinched the Maybank Malaysian Open, the imperviousness that the youth feel in the face of pressure is also an advantage.

It all could add up to a fascinating duel between local players and the rest in the European Tour’s own ‘Tournament of Champions’.

Although defending champion Paul Casey is missing because of an injury sustained in a snowboarding accident, the array of champions will provide riveting viewing for fans – most of whom will be hoping Els is right about the edge local players have.

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